Here are the top 15 area sports stories for 2011 according to the WPDE NewsChannel 15 sports department:
#15 - History was made at the Myrtle Beach Marathon in February. For the first time in this event, a woman won the overall title. 39-year old Kathleen Castles from Providence, New Jersey covered the 26.2 miles in two hours, 41 minutes and 11 seconds. That was more than two and a half minutes faster than the top male finisher.
#14 - The St. James Sharks baseball team won the class 3A state championship and clinched the school's first WPDE Zone Cup title. The Zone Cup is awarded each year to the top overall varsity sports program in the Pee Dee and Grand Strand coverage area.
#13 - Hilton Head's Chip Mullen runs for a 75 yard touchdown on the final play of the class 3A playoff game against Myrtle Beach High. Mullen, who has down syndrome, was allowed to run down the field for six points in a contest that had already been decided. Myrtle Beach won the game 64-16. Mullen's run to paydirt attracted more than 300,000 views on Youtube.
#12 - Former Coastal Carolina golfer Dustin Johnson became only the second player in PGA Tour history to win in each of his first four seasons. Johnson won the BMW Championship at Cog Hill for his fifth career title and made it into the Fed-Ex Cup Playoff. Johnson also finished in a tie for second with Phil Mickelson at the British Open. Johnson finished the year seventh in the world rankings and earned more than 4-million dollars.
#11 - Regan Smith won the Southern 500 at Darlington in May. It was his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory. He qualified 23rd and rallied to power his Chevy Impala to victory lane for the first time in 105 career starts.
#10 - Dillon running back Jabo Lee won the 2011 Zoneman Trophy. The award is given to the top area football player each season. Lee was presented with the award at WPDE NewsChannel 15's Chevy End Zone banquet. 60 players were honored at the event.
#9 - The Coastal Carolina basketball team started the early part of their season with wins over two big time programs. The Chanticleers defeated both LSU and Clemson. Chris Gradnigo followed his own miss at the buzzer to beat Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum. CCU's win over LSU marks the second straight year that they have beaten the Bayou Bengals.
#8 - South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia is dismissed from the football team. Garcia had been suspended five times in his college career and finally benched because of poor play. Connor Shaw took over as Gamecocks starting quarterback and engineered the team to a 6-1 finish and a spot in the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska.
#7 - Timmonsville native Cale Yarborough was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Yarborough won 83 career Cup races and captured three consecutive titles back in the 1970's. He was a five time winner of the Southern 500 at Darlington. Yarborough will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January.
#6 - Former Coastal Carolina head football coach David Bennett's "Cats versus Dogs" news conference was a Youtube sensation. At Bennett's weekly gathering with the media, he told them that his team needed to act more like dogs. That story attracted more than 1-million views on the internet.
#5 - The Coastal Carolina basketball team won 25 straight games. It was the longest streak in the nation at the time. But CCU suspended leading scorer Desmond Holloway following an eligibility issue. The NCAA would eventually rule it a secondary violation and took no further action. Coastal would go on to lose both the Big South Conference Championship game and a first round game at the NIT.
#4 - The Clemson Tigers won the ACC Championship game with a 38-10 victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies. It was Clemson's first ACC football crown in 20 seasons and earned them a trip to the Orange Bowl for the first time in three decades.
#3 - The South Carolina Gamecocks finished their regular season schedule with a 34-13 win over the Clemson Tigers. Gamecocks sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw ran for one touchdown and threw three more to propel USC to a win before their home crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. The Gamecocks finished the regular season with ten wins for only the second time in school history.
#2 - The South Carolina Gamecocks baseball team won the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska for a second straight year. The Gamecocks beat the Florida Gators two games to none in a best-of-three title series. South Carolina is the first school to win all ten games at an NCAA post season baseball tournament. They have now won 16 straight NCAA tournament games dating back to last season and they have won 11 in a row in Omaha. Both are NCAA records.
#1 - Coastal Carolina fired David Bennett from his head football coaching position. It was a surprising move after CCU finished a 7-4 campaign. Bennett guided the Chanticleers to four conference titles and won two Big South Coach of the Year awards during his tenure. 11 days later, Coastal shocked the college football world by naming Joe Moglia, an investment tycoon and chairman of TD Ameritrade, as the new head football coach. Moglia has coached in various capacities over a 19 year span. But he is only 1-4 as a head coach.